Empowering 50 nonprofit programs that support the families of NYC kids ages 0–3.

For children who have seen the better part of their lives impacted by a pandemic, for parents and caregivers who have managed more demands and stress than ever before, and for the community organizations that have stepped up for families in need – FUEL for 50 is a new initiative to strengthen early learning in every borough of New York City.

At FUEL, Robin Hood’s Fund for Early Learning, our mission is to put the science and data behind child development to work for our city’s 100,000+ infants and toddlers living in poverty. We launched in 2017 with a big goal: to transform New York into an “early learning metropolis,” where low-income families can give children the best possible start to their lives. We knew that this would require a fundamental shift in how our City operates, so we set out to invest in sustainable and evidence-based programs with potential to grow for years to come.

Over the last four years, we have forged partnerships with community-based organizations and the City agencies that support young children, advanced research to better understand what works best for NYC families, and invested in promising programs to reach more than 50,000 children by 2022.

Still, in a city where children are significantly more likely than adults to live in poverty, we have much more to do. We know that we can extend the work we’ve started to underfunded neighborhoods throughout our City and that we can strengthen our approach by working with more of the frontline organizations that know their communities best.

As we work together to rebuild a new New York City, the time to renew FUEL’s vision is now. Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen health and nutrition providers, organizers, immigrant advocates, faith communities, mutual aid networks, and more fill the gap in vital services for our City’s most vulnerable families. We created FUEL for 50 to elevate and advance their work, with no-strings-attached funding and support for 50 organizations supporting parents and caregivers of young kids.

Why an Open Challenge?

FUEL for 50 represents something new for us. With input from local nonprofits, parents and community leaders, we have designed this challenge to better serve the wide-ranging organizations that support early learning and to reduce the time and work required to participate. FUEL for 50 has no reporting requirements or intensive interview process, and our call for applications is open to any nonprofit that supports important adults in the lives of children 3 and under.

By shifting from our traditional funding model we hope to accomplish three goals:

  1. Recognize and reward the work of community organizations that are leading efforts to support NYC’s most vulnerable children and their families.
  2. Demonstrate how important early learning and caregiver support can be for organizations beyond the field of child development.
  3. Connect with 50 organizations outside of our current portfolio and help to fuel their work with parents and caregivers.  

The 50 organizations our committee selects will receive unrestricted awards of $25,000—general funding to be used at their own discretion—along with access to optional workshops with experts in child development and nonprofit management. Over the next two years, they’ll have the opportunity to apply for additional FUEL for 50 funding and consulting to develop and scale their programs. Ultimately, we’ll award three of these organizations more than $1 million each.

We believe this is our most ambitious and most accessible initiative to date. Whether you work in health, immigration, housing, community development or any part of your City’s future, you have a stake in early childhood – and FUEL for 50 is an opportunity to help get our youngest New Yorkers back on track.

Why Caregivers?

The science behind FUEL’s mission is clear: the first few years in a child’s life are the most critical for their lifelong learning and development. Anyone who’s traded smiles with a baby or watched a soon-to-be-toddler taking their tentative first steps has seen the brain busy making millions of new connections – learning how to move, watch others, and interact with the world. Research has demonstrated that this early brain-building lays the foundation for lifelong success and that the earlier we commit resources to support children’s health and learning, the greater the return on investment.

As they build these most important skills, children’s first teachers are the adults in their lives. Whether they’re parents, grandparents, babysitters or neighbors, caregivers are tasked with creating a positive environment for learning, providing warm and responsive interactions, and protecting children from stress. Young children need strong supports to both provide positive early experiences and protect against negative ones, and any parent can tell you that judging and addressing the needs of a baby or toddler is hard work.

Thousands of New York City families take on the hard work of parenting without access to basic services, housing, food or income – and support for these caregivers can make a huge difference in their children’s development and success. With FUEL for 50, we hope to support programs that support parents and caregivers through:

  • Strengthening core learning/teaching and socio-emotional skills – for example, conducting story time sessions, or offering substance abuse treatment and prevention programs for adults
  • Building nurturing relationships – for example, offering programs that promote responsive parenting, or supporting survivors of domestic violence to create healthy and stable environments
  • Reducing sources of stress – for example, providing caregivers with access to mental health services, or connecting adults to safety net resources such as WIC or SNAP

We’re also excited to learn about new strategies or ideas that your organization uses to support families in creating a healthy environment for development, accessing services or building resilience. If you work with the parents or other adult caregivers of young children, we want to hear from you!

FUEL for 50 is an opportunity to strengthen early learning in every borough of New York City and a call for fellow funders, nonprofits and everyone invested in our City’s future to focus on the relationships that support our youngest and most vulnerable New Yorkers.

We launch FUEL for 50 with support from a network of local organizations and leaders, community resources like our public library systems and a team that’s ready and excited to help share this opportunity with as many people as possible. We cannot wait to hear from organizations throughout our City and to learn from your submissions and input, and we’ll be sure to share our reflections as the process unfolds.

Our Partners

Special thanks to the supporters and many partners that have helped us create and launch this effort: